They call him Fooch of Niners Nation. Whenever Frank Gore breaks off a long run, he is there. Whenever the team drafts a talented rookie like Patrick Willis, he is there. Whenever Alex Smith gets hurts again, he's also there. And he answered some questions, too.
1. The coaching staff seems to be promising a heavy dosage of Frank Gore. Do you think they'll follow through on that?
Fooch: I really would hope they follow through with a heavy dose of Frank Gore. The primary problem the last month-plus is that the team has been behind and had to throw more to play catchup. Also, Gore has gotten banged up the last few games, so when the team falls behind they don't even keep him in for the passing game so as to avoid injuries. Of course, when your offensive line is playing poorly you could run Gore 100 times and it wouldn't make much difference. But if the 49ers can build some sort of lead I'd expect a whole lot of Gore.
2. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld (have you seen those rare Bee Movie trailers? I almost never see them), what's the deal with Alex Smith? Will he ever get past injuries and ineffectiveness, or is he on the bust watch list?
Fooch: I had to do a youtube search because they clearly aren't playing Bee Movie trailers enough. Smith is definitely getting a bust label from many 49ers fans, although not this one yet. I want to see significant improvement obviously, but it's taking some time to get there. Even if everything else was working fine (o-line, play calling, etc...), the injuries are really stunting his progress. He really struggled last week but that was coming back from the shoulder injury. This is a chance for him to make a statement about where he's at. He has the physical tools and he has plenty more weapons this year, but it has yet to really come together. This will be a telling week for his progress the rest of the season.
3. Seems like you guys had a great draft this year, particularly with the pick of Patrick Willis. Who is the young dude besides Willis who you think has the most long term potential?
Fooch: The easy answer would be Joe Staley, our other first round pick. But I'll dig a little deeper and say Tarell Brown, our fifth round pick, a cornerback out of Texas. Brown has all the talent in the world, but had some character issues come up this past season. He was asleep in the backseat of a car with a gun in his lap and some marijuana nearby. However, Nolan put him through the character ringer and was sufficiently satisfied. Considering the current depth of the secondary, Brown has time to learn from Nate Clements and Walt Harris and potentially develop into an excellent cover-corner. Shawntae Spencer has settled into the 3rd corner role and I think Brown could eventually surpass him there.
4. What are the 49er strengths and weaknesses? What does the team have to do to beat the Falcons? Let the record show that I will hunt you down if you say "not much".
Fooch: Strengths: The secondary has been a strength, in spite of last week's less than stellar performance. Nate Clements has earned his contract up to this point and Walt Harris continues to excel. Michael Lewis as been a solid signing as well, helping in the run defense and provided some solid hits. However, the biggest strength, unfortunately, has been the punting unit and punt coverage. Andy Lee is 3rd in punting average, second in punts inside the 20 and 3rd in punt return yards averaged.
Weaknesses: The offensive line has been atrocious thus far after being a strength last season. The o-line is probably the biggest reason the rushing and passing game are struggling to come together. Of course, this could require a change in play-calling and most fans would prefer that as most are calling for the head of OC Jim Hostler.
To beat the Falcons: The team needs to establish some sort of presence along the offensive line. Both teams are struggling and if the 49ers can establish Frank Gore steadily and efficiently, they win this game. If Gore gets 100+ yards on 4.5-5 consistent yards a carry, the passing game will open up. Smith has the weapons, he just needs the time to make things happen. This is obviously must-win for both teams.
5. Who is the Falcons player you fear the most?
Fooch: DeAngelo Hall and Jerius Norwood - Both seem like amazing playmakers from what I've seen in highlights. In spite of the tantrums I seem to be reading about, Hall is quite the playmaker for the most part. Norwood on the other hand seems like a guy who can make a big play at virtually any time, which is one more reason I'm confused he doesn't get more touches week to week.
A big thanks again to Fooch for doing this, and be sure to check out my answers to his questions on Niners Nation.